This is a Guest post by Beverly Langford.

etiquetteedgeAlthough few of us love workplace meetings, they can be career boosters if you go prepared to help fulfill the meeting’s objective and strengthen important relationships with managers, peers, and direct reports. Meetings are proving grounds for demonstrating your insights, collaborative abilities, and presentation skills. So rather than seeing a meeting as a dreary obligation, you should regard them as a forum for career development and advancement.

Many of us, unwittingly, may undermine our chance to make a good meeting impression with unconscious body language that says we don’t want to be there and we don’t value others’ contributions. Here are some common nonverbal mistakes.


Avoiding Eye Contact with the Speaker

Whether the speaker is a fellow participant who currently has the floor or someone who is delivering a formal presentation in a segment of the meeting, you need to train your eyes on that person. Looking away from the speaker, either checking your phone, gazing out the window, or focusing on someone else in the room will disconnect you from the message and send a signal to everyone else that you’re checked out.


Making Your Chair an Accomplice

The way you sit in a meeting speaks volumes about your attitude toward the topics and the participants. Slouching in your chair or swiveling to turn your back to some of the meeting attendees conveys a lack of energy and engagement. To communicate interest, make sure that you sit with both feet on the floor, leaning a bit forward in your chair.

Avoid letting your body language signal which agenda items are important to you, and which ones don’t seem to matter. We all recognize meeting participants who nonverbally “remove” themselves when the subject doesn’t interest them. Who seems all in, and who has been crumpled in his seat since the finance department’s report began?


Disregarding the Meeting Support Materials

Meetings often create piles of paper. Even in a digital world, people arrive at meetings armed with handouts, from copies of someone’s slides to spreadsheets, outlines of the agenda, or sales projections. How you treat those retargets may reveal your attitude about the topics and the speakers. If you have received documents before the meeting, read them and bring them to the meeting, ready to use.

If someone distributes the materials at the beginning, he or she obviously wants you to use them as the meeting proceeds. Leaving the handouts untouched or skipping ahead, disregarding where the documents intersect with the discussion, are dead giveaways that you aren’t focused on the meeting’s processes. Using the support materials and making notes as the discussion progresses speak volumes about your interest in the subject and in the people who have prepared them.

Even worse, collecting the documents and putting them away signals that you are done—even if the meeting isn’t.


Avoiding Negative Nonverbals

Remember that your body language sends powerful messages to others, often without your knowledge. Your colleagues know when you are ignoring them or deciding that their expertise and ideas don’t interest you. When you are aware of how your attitude positions you in a meeting, perhaps changing these habits can reshape your attitude. Learn to view meetings as opportunities for you to build relationships and observe others’ particular abilities and expertise—for example, Katie’s great slides or Jermaine’s efficiency in running a meeting. Showing interest in and appreciation for others’ efforts will go a long way toward creating allies, and looking at meetings at learning experiences about both the topic and the organization’s culture can pay career dividends in the future.


beverly-langfordAbout the Guest Post Author:

Beverly Langford is the author of The Etiquette Edge: Modern Manners for Business Success and President of LMA Communication, a consulting, training, and coaching firm that works with organizations and individuals on strategic communication, message development, effective interpersonal communication skills, team building, and leadership development.
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